Sustainable mobility features increasingly in the national priorities of countries worldwide. While the more popular shift has been towards rechargeable battery electric vehicles (EVs), the feasibility of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, as another alternative, has also been discussed. Given their potential to reduce tailpipe emissions, hydrogen vehicles could solve local pollution issues. But hydrogen will be beneficial in reducing carbon footprints only when it is sourced from renewable energy and is ‘green’. (For more information, refer to our previous article in CEF Explains, ‘What Is Green Hydrogen?’.)
Hydrogen vehicles may be of two kinds – hydrogen internal combustion engine (HICE) vehicles or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). While the popular term ‘hydrogen vehicles' refers more often to the latter, there may be a strong case for the use of HICEs, too, in price-sensitive markets such as India. Instead of conventional automotive fuels such as petrol and diesel, these engines burn hydrogen in internal combustion engines. The vehicles will require minimal internal changes apart from a hydrogen tank.1 Therefore, the production costs associated with creating new vehicles are significantly reduced since the components mostly remain the same. Alternatively, FCEVs use hydrogen to charge fuel cell batteries that power the electric motor.
Typically, HICEs are better suited for high-load operations than FCEVs since the latter would require the addition of a hydrogen tank and a bulky fuel cell for this purpose, making it prohibitively expensive.2 Furthermore, HICEs also require a lower grade of hydrogen purity and have often been considered an excellent immediate next step for the global transition to clean mobility.3 On the other hand, FCEVs are better suited for low-load operations.4 Regenerative braking in these vehicles can also help boost their overall efficiency.5
India has seen a strong policy push towards using hydrogen in mobility. Policymakers and ministries governing sectors such as road transport, power, and the railways have supported the use of green hydrogen to fuel mobility. This has encouraged large corporates to make commitments towards developing this technology, such as Adani in collaboration with TotalEnergies SE, IndianOil, NTPC, L&T, and many others. It is speculated that Reliance Industries, which has committed US $75 billion to green hydrogen over the next 15 years, will join hands with trucks and buses manufacturer, Ashok Leyland, to develop hydrogen-powered engines.6 The company has also partnered with the Japanese car-maker Toyota to develop a fuel cell stack for its hydrogen-powered trucks.7
Hydrogen-powered mobility, while in its nascent stages today, can be expected to mushroom into a major phenomenon over the next few years, and India’s green hydrogen market is expected to grow into a USD 340 billion market by 2050.8 In 2050, 22 per cent of the country’s hydrogen demand (presumably green) can be expected to come from transport.9 The cumulative market size for fuel cells for hydrogen vehicles is expected to be USD 40 – 55 billion between 2020 and 2050.10 Whether it could also be used to further the country’s sustainable mobility ambitions will depend on whether the cost of green hydrogen, currently at USD 6/kg, can be reduced. 11 It also remains to be seen whether it can complement the country’s well-established EV ambitions, because currently, this technology requires three times more electricity than its EV counterpart to power a truck for a kilometre.12 However, its strategic use in segments that are difficult to electrify – such as long-distance road transport, railways, aviation, and shipping – could be the answer to scaling up this technology.
· Alternate-fuel investors
· Transport policymakers